In this modern world, we all spend too much time inside. Especially me. Between working in an office, woodworking in my small shop and gaming on console and PC, it’s rare that I spend a whole day outside. Which is a shame, because woodworking outside is so pleasant; it just takes forever for me to set up. But not anymore. I made a fully knock-down outside workbench.
If you’ve followed me for a while, you’re probably saying, “Seriously? Another freaking workbench, James?”. But this one is made from just wood I had on hand. The legs are some fast growth, kiln dried ash that was not even furniture grade (hence the paint). The stretchers are reclaimed red oak from my old desk. The top is mostly a home center Douglas Fir 2×12 left over from when I made my brother a Naked Woodworker-style Nicholson Workbench (the boards were too cupped to be either aprons or benchtop without flattening, which would have made them too thin for their intended purpose). Even the wedges (Black Locust) came from the scrap bin.
To be clear, this is essentially a Moravian Workbench with straight legs instead of angled. But instead of a proper vise, this bench relies on a Whipple Hook (look it up!) and holdfasts, both in the legs and the fixed deadman that gives a bit more rigidity to the top. 2.75 inches of Douglas Fir is good but not great,and benefits from the extra support.
Whipple Hooks are and interesting bit of tech. They truly turn any board into a workbench, but they have their limitations. The planing stop part of the hook is right at the workbench edge, so a doe’s foot or row of dogs really helps stabilize the work.
And the crochet part of the Whipple Hook can only handle 5/8″ or less stock so a holdfast in the fixed deadman and one of the legs leg is an absolute necessity for all but the thinnest stop. Pegs alone just don’t cut it if the board doesn’t fit inside the crochet. But with a holdfast in the leg, it’s as good as a face vise for cutting tenon cheeks.
All in all, I think I still prefer a properly mortised toothed planing stop and a leg vise, but for outside woodworking (which, let’s face it, is usually rougher work), this setup is plenty serviceable. Plus, when I feel like dovetailing outside, I have a DIY twin-screw vise available.
It’s worth discussing the height of the bench. I like a bench that is 34.75″ high in the workshop. For me (at 5’10” exactly), that height is workable for hand planing (a smidge too high, so more of an arm workout than a core exercise), but perfect for dovetailing once a Moxon vise is added (getting the work to 39″ or so).
But this outdoor bench is 32″ high. And that’s on purpose. Outside woodworking for me is usually donkey work on home center stock, which is often twisted and warped. Jackplaning and then chopping mortised and dadoes, really. I’m over the work constantly, rather than beside it (like I would be for dovetailing). I can really tell the difference T this height, as my back doesn’t bark like it does at my inside benches. Perhaps this is a sign and I should make a taller Moxon vise to go with a shorter bench?
But that’s a question for another day.